Faithful women. Indispensable yesterday, today and tomorrow.
Countless Forgotten Women
By Helen LaKelly Hunt
March is Women’s History Month! Each March, our nation celebrates the wondrous contributions made to our culture by women of the past. At a time when all men and women are honoring women’s history in our culture – it is important to lift up pioneer women within faith traditions. This segment is often overlooked by feminists, but there is sudden renewed interest in the area of faith and its important intersection with the women’s movement.
Every year, we reclaim more stories about women who have braved loneliness and social ostracism to speak out against racism, poverty, and other forms of social injustice. We can now learn about women teachers and writers who have insisted that women intellectuals be recognized for their contributions to science, philosophy, and religious thought. The names of Rachel Carson, Jane Addams, Sojourner Truth, St. Teresa of Avila, and Dorothy Day, are familiar to us. Our knowledge of these extraordinary women deepens as our passion to learn more about the role of women in general increases. But a view that focuses only on famous women is too simple.
We are beginning to appreciate the enormous contribution to our culture made by women whose stories have been held in shadow to date. There are countless forgotten women who have made it possible for us to exercise the freedoms we enjoy today. A renewed interest in religion and spirituality has sparked interest in the lives of women of faith, many of whom have worked in relative obscurity to improve the lives of the people around them. We will highlight some of these women’s stories for you in the days to come.
This year, we can rejoice that there is increasing dialogue between secular feminists and women of faith. Women from both sides of the aisle are recognizing how many extraordinary women of the past have been fueled by their deep faith in a just God. When we piece together what motivated both black and white women in the mid-nineteenth century to speak out against slavery, we hear them talk about needing to live according to God’s justice rather than capitulating to the flawed system of man’s laws. When we trace the thinking of women who devoted their lives to orphaned children in Chicago, New York City, or deepest Africa, we find them quoting the Beatitudes: they wanted to be Jesus-followers, who expressed their love for God through loving the “least of these.” When we review the lives of the brave Christian and Jewish women who insisted that God was calling them to religious leadership within their denominations, we can sense how close God was to them. When we read the writings of faithful women throughout the centuries, we can see that they were empowered by the conviction that God spoke to them and guided them as surely as he spoke to the priests who had authority over them. These women have taken their marching orders directly from God, and society benefited from their bravery, conviction and the special way that women, in particular, are guided by connectedness and relationship in all they do.
As different as these women in history are, and as diverse as their circumstances have been, it’s amazing how consistent are their ideals. To put it broadly, they have given their lives to the fight for:
Who can argue with these ideals? But the question is, which of us is willing to approach these complex issues with the sincerity and sacrifice they require?
As we continue to be enriched by the stories of the brave women who have come before us, we must let ourselves be inspired by their examples of bravery. They nurtured their relationship with God, they listened for the voice of the Divine in their lives, they dedicated themselves to the cause of justice and they acted on their convictions, certain that they were answering to a higher power. Women are vital to the solutions of our present crises. We must be brave enough to speak from our own spiritual core, just as they did, so that our contributions can be added to theirs - in this history which is incomplete without the voices of women.
Helen LaKelly Hunt
Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D., has been active in the Women's Movement for over 20 years. She is the author of Faith and Feminism, A Holy Alliance, honoring five women "who made the world a better place.) She is founder of The Sister Fund and has served on the board of directors of numerous women's foundations. She has been inducted into the Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Besides her work for women, she also works with her husband, Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., teaching communications skills. The couple has coauthored several books on Imago Relationship Therapy.